The future of the Labour party

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

Less broad-church, more split-congregation? 

In Jeremy Corbyn’s first leadership campaign, Labour party members became heavily accustomed to hearing the phrase ‘Broad-Church’ used to describe the Party, and it seemed an appropriate description. Members of the Labour party are arguably the most diverse of all the major UK political parties, and this has always been something Labour could be proud of and celebrate.

However, as the political fallout from the EU referendum continues, is Labour looking less ‘broach-church’ and more split-congregation?

My religious metaphor is more symbolic than descriptive, but the notion of a schism forming in the Labour party is hard not to accept. The divide takes many forms: north versus south, remain versus leave, old versus young, but most clearly the divide presents between the traditionally rural and industrial regions of the UK versus the prospering and globalised major cities.

Globalisation has been to the advantage of one of those groups more than the other and the defence/rejection of the European Union is reflective of that.

Now these difference are not new and they are not necessarily a bad thing. However, Brexit has thrown the microscope over them in a way never experienced before, and the cracks are beginning to show.

 Mr Blair was speaking to a increasingly frustrated group of Labour voters

Tony Blair’s recent speech for Open Britain, the phoenix group formed from the ashes of the ‘Remain’ Campaign, sparked outrage across the country from Labour and Conservative Leave supporters alike and was given the passive aggressive treatment by Jeremy Corbyn, who described it as “not helpful”.

But even those that had their nose put out by it must recognise that Mr Blair was speaking to a increasingly frustrated group of Labour voters. As much as prominent Leave spokespeople like to obsess and repeatedly press the notion of ‘respecting a democratic result’, they are enormously undemocratic in their malice towards the unrelenting Remain voice.

Labour’s infighting, demonstrated perfectly by Mr Blair’s speech, is in danger of undermining the effective scrutiny of our leaving of the EU and could allow Brexit to become the political play-thing of Theresa May’s Conservative government: something it would be best to avoid, for all our sakes.

Immigration is the policy area that Labour needs to pay the greatest attention to

Jeremy Corbyn’s election and re-election to Leader of the Labour party led some commentators to suggest that a split in Labour was inevitable and whilst not exactly the same split as the one presented by Brexit, there are enormous overlaps. Social justice and demands for equality were enough to unite 43% of the electorate, across the political spectrum, under Tony Blair in ’97, but it is hard to see a similar election result for Labour in the immediate future. The results in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent were damaging for the Labour party and pushed British politics into uncharted territory. Are the social and economic divides just too great now?

In many ways, immigration is the policy area that Labour needs to pay the greatest attention to, as it will be the policy area that ultimately determines whether a united Labour party has a future. Yvette Cooper, through the Home Affairs Select Committee, is beginning a long overdue, national conversation and debate, on immigration and I hope to see Labour strongly engage in this.

The EU Referendum was for many, the first real chance to express their preferences on immigration and the results demonstrate the biggest crack of all.

Tom Watson, Labour’s Deputy Leader, whist being interviewed by Sophie Ridgy on Sky, made the bizarre decision to respond to a question on immigration, by suggesting it was unfair to ask what Labour’s stance on immigration was. This, as well as the vague nationwide demand for ‘controls on immigration’, should be regarded as Nigel Farage’s greatest victory.

Politicians left and right know the economic value of immigration and so in order to balance the need to support the UK’s economy and votes for their party, they tread a line of vague soundbites and utopian policy objectives.

Both the best and worst thing for Labour right now, would be a general election

Responses like Tom Watson’s are doing nothing to lay the foundations for a once again strong and united Labour party, neither are claims that Leave voters are uneducated or that Labour MPs that don’t support Corbyn are part of some big coup.

I get the impression that both the best and worst thing for Labour right now, would be a general election. Labour needs policies, it needs a firm position to defend and it needs a universal and aligned party manifesto. Only with these, could the cracks be fixed or, if necessary, pushed into full on separation.

If Labour carries on as it is now, the future is bleak and frustrating and we risk facilitating unopposed Conservative dominance, which may even for a Conservative voter, be a scary prospect.

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